Since she moved to Los Angeles, Bat For Lashes has been in an 80s mood.
“Driving up the coast and seeing all the pine trees and sunsets and strange old piers and abandoned theme parks – it feels like I’m living in that suburban place where ET could land at any moment,” she says.
The singer, aka Natasha Khan, left England in 2016 as her record deal with Parlophone came to an end, pursuing her dream of becoming a film-maker.
Inspired by her surroundings, she started work on a script about a gang of “bad-ass girls who look like they’re vampires” but are slowly revealed to be “supreme witches” who “harness the power of nature to bring good into the world”.
But getting a film off the ground isn’t as easy as it seems. As Richard Curtis once said: “The difference between having a good idea for a movie and a finished movie is the same as seeing a pretty girl across the floor at a party and being there when she gives birth to your third child… It’s a very long journey.”
In the meantime, Khan was asked to provide a song for Stephen King’s TV horror show Castle Rock, with the brief stating “they wanted music made now that sounded like it came from the 80s”.
She went to meet the show’s composer Chris Westlake and, within a day, they’d come up with Kids In The Dark – a gleaming synth ballad that sounds like Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time waltzing with Berlin’s Take My Breath Away on Betamax, in a wind tunnel, with Molly Ringwald.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this sounds like all my favourite music,'” says Khan.
Pretty soon, her script was being retro-fitted as an album produced by Charles Scott IV, as the singer indulged all her 80s fantasies.
“I rewatched The Lost Boys, Repo Man, ET, The Goonies, Karate Kid,” says the singer. “I mean, I watch those films quite a bit anyway, but also The Hunger with David Bowie and lots of horror films.
“And then Charles and I would listen back to the guitar sounds The Cure used, or the drum machines Robert Palmer used, or the synth sounds Peter Gabriel used.
“We wouldn’t necessarily copy them, but it was inspiration to create our own versions of those things.”
It’s not the first time the Brighton-born musician has drawn inspiration from the 80s – the artwork for her 2009 single Daniel shows Khan on a windswept beach with a full-back tattoo of The Karate Kid’s Daniel LaRusso – but the decade’s darker aesthetics are a perfect foil for her breathy, soft-focus melodies.
On The Hunger, icy keys and staccato guitar lines prowl menacingly as Khan’s vampiric characters chant: “I want to bleed / And feed us forever”.
Feel For You, on the other hand, flutters around a syncopated syn-drum loop as Khan repeatedly declares her love to, one presumes, her latest victim.
“It was liberating to just have two lines in the chorus and not be so precious about being poetic and deep and all that stuff,” she laughs.
It’s certainly a world away from the bleak misery of her last album, 2016’s The Bride, which told the story of a woman whose fiancé died on his way to their wedding.
“This is definitely much more playful and tongue-in-cheek,” she says. “And that’s definitely an aspect of me: I love to dance, I love romance and music and laughter – but I suppose I’ve never pushed it so much in my music.”
She even road-tested the songs with her friends to ensure maximum danceability (“If they wiggle, then you know it’s a good one”) but it wouldn’t be a Bat For Lashes album without an overarching narrative concept.
So remember those vampire biker girl witch people? It turns out they each have “different aspects of womanhood” – and when they kidnap the story’s protagonist and take her to the Mojave desert, it’s an attempt to save her soul.
“The metaphor of the story, really, is that in order to live and love in the normal world, everyone has to delve into their subconscious and reconnect with elements of their psyche that may have been abandoned, or left in the shadows,” Khan explains.
She worries that the “superficial” and “over-stimulated” modern world allows us to bury our most troubled thoughts and impulses, instead of hashing things out with friends and family.
“I couldn’t write a song with my phone next to me, I wouldn’t even think about doing that, so why do we think we can conduct relationships and conversations with our families in that way?”
Left to fester, she says, those unspoken emotions grow into something altogether more disturbing.
“If as a society you don’t visit the dark side or the shadow side, you get projections of that out in the world – crazy politics, or demonising groups of people. And so we get these very black and white viewpoints happening, which I think is dangerous.
“People I know are really hungry for community and the rituals that we’ve lost: The cycles and pagan traditions that help keep us connected to the life and death process.
“We don’t have places of worship or places where we gather – unless they’re pubs or festivals or things that involve lots of drinking; and a lot of people seem to be feeling quite lost and disconnected.”
It hardly needs to be said but, for Khan, music and film are the ways she deals with her darker impulses.
“They’re always pulling me down into those depths – probably more than is necessary,” she laughs. “It’s always a balancing act between losing yourself too much to reality, or losing yourself too much to fantasy.”
Yet she’s always presented her music through characters, concepts and narratives, saying she finds that “easier than going out and baring my soul in really confessional love songs”.
It’s helped her deal with the anxiety that comes with playing live – a prospect that’s looming on the horizon this autumn.
“I’ve been in LA living in my own world and it’s been very magical and quiet and creative – so this stage is quite scary,” she admits.
“You’re changing form, and turning this small creature into a big, glamorous pizazz-y beast – but otherwise I sort of feel like, ‘It’s just little old me, why am I going to go and stand on a stage?’
“So it’s funny and surreal and it takes a bit of time – but right now, I feel like I’m in a good place to reach out.”
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